July 26, 2016



New Report Calls for Rigorous Monitoring to Evaluate Ecological Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico


WASHINGTON – To improve and ensure the efficacy of restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico following Deepwater Horizon – the largest oil spill in U.S. history – a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends a set of best practices for monitoring and evaluating ecological restoration activities.  


The Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustee Council, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (RESTORE Council), and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) are the largest restoration programs working toward the Gulf’s recovery after the 2010 offshore oil spill that led to a 20 percent reduction in commercial fisheries and damaged about 1,100 miles of coastal salt marsh wetlands. These programs administer a majority of the $16 billion available in restoration funds, supporting projects that range from coastal and offshore habitat restoration to recovery of certain species, water quality improvement, and land acquisition. 


The report finds that the majority of past U.S. restoration efforts have not been adequately monitored to assess or improve restoration efficacy. To date, monitoring activities have been dramatically underfunded, and very few programs monitor environmental and social results.  To ensure that progress of the efforts can be evaluated, the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report recommended that all restoration activities funded by these programs define specific, measurable objectives and adopt a rigorous statistical monitoring effort and a well-designed data management plan. 


“Integrating a monitoring plan as part of the broader restoration program is important to assure the funders and public that restoration funds are being spent effectively,” said committee chair Frank Davis, director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at University of California, Santa Barbara.  “Given the similarities in the strategic goals of Gulf restoration programs, the objectives and monitoring approaches need to be considered holistically to maximize compatibility of efforts and the lasting value of the data and information being collected."

Monitoring is essential to ensure projects are implemented and functioning as designed, to assess whether goals are met, to improve the design of future restoration efforts, and to identify critical uncertainties that might prevent the success of a project, the committee said.  The report suggests funding agencies work together to ensure that monitoring data are as consistent and comparable as possible across the Gulf, and also that data are publicly available by establishing clear policies for data archiving and sharing.


The report also provides more specific restoration monitoring guidelines for six habitats and species groups in the Gulf: oyster reefs, tidal wetlands, seagrasses, birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals.  For example, when corrals are constructed to protect sea turtle eggs, their monitoring might entail measuring the amount of beach protected after construction, the location of the corrals relative to the high tide line, and the density of vegetation in the corrals to ensure the project’s success.  


The study was sponsored by the Academies’ Gulf Research Program, which was established at the request of the U.S. government as part of legal settlements in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org. A committee roster follows.



Riya V. Anandwala, Media Relations Officer
Rebecca Ray, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu

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Copies of Effective Monitoring to Evaluate Ecological Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico are available at www.nap.edu or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).




Division on Earth and Life Studies

Ocean Studies Board


Committee on Effective Approaches for Monitoring and Assessing the Gulf of Mexico Restoration Activities



Frank W. Davis (chair)


National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis; and


Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management

University of California

Santa Barbara


David M. Burdick

Research Associate Professor

Department of Natural Resources and the Environment

College of Life Sciences and Agriculture

University of New Hampshire



Loren Coen

Research Professor

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

Florida Atlantic University

Fort Pierce


Peter Doering

Senior Administrator

Applied Sciences Bureau South Florida Water Management District

West Palm Beach


Frances Gulland

Senior Scientist

Marine Mammal Center

Sausalito, Calif.


Kenneth L. Heck Jr.

Senior Marine Scientist

Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory

Dauphin Island, Ala.


Matthew K. Howard

Research Scientist

Texas A&M University

College Station


Michael S. Kearney


Department of Environmental Sciences and Technology

University of Maryland

College Park


Paul Montagna

Endowed Chair for Ecosystems and Modeling

Harte Research Institute

Corpus Christi, Texas


Pamela Plotkin

Director for Sea Grant Texas

Texas A&M University

College Station


Kenneth A. Rose

Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

Louisiana State University

Baton Rouge


Eric P. Smith

Professor and Department Head

Department of Statistics

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University



Heather M. Tallis

Lead Scientist

The Nature Conservancy

Santa Cruz, Calif.


Ronald Thom

Staff Scientist

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Sequim, Wash.


Mark S. Woodrey

Research Ecologist

Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

Mississippi State University

Moss Point




Claudia Mengelt

Study Director

Stephanie Johnson
Senior Program Officer

Heather Coleman
Post-Doctoral Fellow

Payton Kulina
Senior Research Assistant